Should I bring it up? What do you say? Is it better that I don’t speak about it at all? I choose to talk about suicide today on World Suicide Prevention Day because it’s important that we break the silence.

Suicide is a very real global phenomenon. It can be so easy to just state that suicide is a “selfish act”, “they didn’t have to do that”, “they should have talked to someone”, etc. 

Suicide is generally misunderstood, and more information needs to be shared to support it. People who suffer from suicidal thoughts feel there is no other option than to end their lives. They tend to be suffering a great deal and feel there is no way to overcome it. 

How you can help someone battling suicidal thoughts

  1. Do not be afraid to ask about suicidal thoughts

It is normal to feel afraid to bring up the topics of suicide for fear of maybe giving them ideas. But research shows it can open up the opportunity to talk about it and allow you the opportunity to offer your help. It tells them you are present; you are aware of the signs and that you care about their wellbeing. 

Here are some ways to start the conversation if you are concerned about someone:

“I have been feeling concerned about you lately.”

“Over the last few weeks, I have noticed something different in you and wondered how you are doing?”

“I wanted to check in with you because you haven’t seemed yourself of late.”

2. Know the warning signs, according to the CDC

  • Feeling like a burden
  • Self-isolating
  • Feeling trapped or in unbearable pain
  • Increased substance use
  • Increased anger
  • Extreme mood swings
  • Expressing hopelessness
  • Change in sleeping patterns either too much or too little
  • Talking or posting about the desire to die
  • Making plans to commit suicide

3. Know how suicidal thoughts are expressed

We should not assume that they are joking or are not serious when talking about harming themselves or thinking of death. According to the American Foundation of Suicide Prevention, the following statements should be looked out for:

  • “I should just kill myself”
  • “There is no to live anymore”
  • “Everyone will be better without me”
  • “There is no way out of this mess”
  • “I can’t live like this anymore”
  • “This is too painful to live”

4. Do not discount their feelings

Try to avoid dismissing their feelings. When they express these feelings, it is not about how serious you feel it is but rather how seriously they perceive it to be. Yes, this can be a cry for help, which is an opportunity to offer support, but it does not mean that they won’t attempt to take their life, and as such, they need to have their feelings heard. Otherwise, you could end up reaffirming their negative feelings. 

5. Be a good listener

Being a good listener does not require many skills. But it does require being accepting, patient, and avoiding arguments and quick solutions. Active and Reflective Listening, avoid trying to fill the silence or interrupt them when they do talk. They have taken the first step to share about the most painful, and maybe shameful, feeling they have ever experienced.

Do not rush to respond, but take a moment to first acknowledge the feelings, “I am so sorry to hear that you are feeling like this; it must be very difficult.” Even if you do not agree with how they are feeling, this is not encouraging their feelings, merely acknowledging that they are heard. 

6. Encourage them to get help

After listening, start to introduce the idea of getting help. Firstly, if they have a clear plan to commit suicide, you can ask if you can keep the weapon or device for them, remove all risks that are easy to access. You may not be able to remove all the risky things from the environment, so connect them to helplines or professional services. 

7. Don’t leave them alone

Besides professional services, social connection is very important for a person who is feeling alone. Stay with them if there is no other person to call or inform. When spending time with them, do things that they enjoyed in the past, go meet with good friends, and encourage them to join support groups. 

8. Know that secrets can kill 

Keeping secrets such as this can keep the person feeling alone, leading to isolation and increasing opportunities to make plans and to attempt them. If someone has shared this with you and asked you to keep it a secret, keep in mind that you may have to break your promise to help them. It is better to have them alive and angry at you than to have them take their lives. 

9. Check for any immediate danger

Does the person have a high risk of attempting suicide? People who are high risk have a specific plan; they have identified the way and things they will use to carry it out; have set a specific time for doing it, and show an intention to do it. 

Encourage them to get the help they need right away to prevent suicide in the long run. 

What not to do:

  1. When someone opens up to you about their suicidal thoughts, do not try to:
    1. Do not argue with the person;
    2. Find an easy solution;
    3. Tell them to ‘cheer up, ‘pull themselves together, ‘man up’ or ‘snap out of it;
    4. Tell them they have no reason to feel like that;
    5. Tell them to be grateful for their life;
    6. Tell them not to be silly. 
  2. Responses above can make some feel:
    1. Rejected
    2. Unheard
    3. alone
    4. guilty
    5. patronised
    6. criticised, or
    7. judged

The best thing one can do is ask how you can help or offer to accompany them to a professional mental healthcare provider or be there. Often when we talk about suicide, it’s in relation to a tragic thread on how someone took their life, but we should be more open to communicate and share forward the stories where people were able to talk to someone, got help and led a healthy life forward. 

There are enormous possibilities to intervene and prevent vulnerable people from taking the tragic and unfortunate step of taking their lives. Although interventions like these essentially demand mental health professionals, but they start with family, friends and colleagues. If your loved one has suicidal ideations tendencies, taking the initiative to start an honest conversation is the first step of getting the help and eventually saving a life. 

People don’t want to end their lives; they want to end their lives as they know it at that moment.  So if someone gets a chance to change it all, they would want to live and live happily. For that one chance, we must unmute ourselves and support everyone to figure out their negative emotions in all of our capacities. That one moment can make the change. That one moment can make life happen. So, help out, and voice out.

To get more information and advice on what to do in a particular situation, you can call on these hotlines listed here across the world.